Buyer Beware

As a lifelong fan of the beleaguered Houston Astros, I want the team to win more than anyone—except maybe Jim Crane, the brand-new owner. So I wrote him a friendly letter.

Dear Jim,

Congratulations on being the new owner of the Houston Astros. Or should I say, condolences? As you know better than anyone, last year the team posted the worst record in the history of the franchise—56 wins, 106 losses, and 40 games out of first place—reviving the mocking nickname “the Lastros.” Worse than the record was the decimation of the roster by your predecessor, Drayton McLane, who ran the team as if it were a troubled asset and he were Mitt Romney at Bain Capital. Over the past two seasons, he and much-loathed general manager Ed Wade spun off high-dollar players (Michael Bourn, Hunter Pence, and Lance Berkman, as well as ace pitcher Roy Oswalt) to lower the payroll and make the team more attractive to potential buyers. Wade sent so much talent to his former team, the Philadelphia Phillies, that he was practically a double agent. By the end of last season, the Astros had been gutted. The fire sale left the team with players so young and inexperienced they were in danger of getting carded when they walked into a bar.

And that’s when you came in, buying the team last year for $615 million. At the time, I thought Major League Baseball was setting you up for a fleecing. I should have known better. You’re no stranger to the game, having played from age 6 to age 22, ultimately as a pitcher for the University of Central Missouri (to whom you later donated $1.2 million to upgrade the baseball facilities). You reminded me of this in our interview a few weeks ago, and it left me with the distinct impression that you have both the resources and the love for the game that will be required to resuscitate the franchise. How many owners can say, as you did, “I can walk into a locker room and tell if the chemistry is right”?

So let’s talk some baseball. A condition of the sale was that you agreed to move the club to the American League in 2013 as part of the realignment of Major League Baseball. This did not sit well with Astros fans, myself included. I will recover, but I confess to having nodded in agreement when I read that the dear departed Berkman, still a loyal Astro at heart, had accused Commissioner Bud Selig of extortion for requiring the Astros to join the American League. Houston has always been a National League town—the

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